Week of excitement (meteors and moons) for sky-watchers

Saturday night, January 3, will feature the first meteor shower of 2015.
By Brooks Hays  |  Dec. 29, 2014 at 3:20 PM
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WASHINGTON, Dec. 29 (UPI) -- This week is jam-packed with sky-gazing events -- moons disappearing, meteors sparkling and comets whizzing.

First up is a vanishing act by two of Jupiter's moons. On 10:18 p.m. EST on Wednesday night, New Year's Eve, Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, will disappear in its host's shadow. Another of Jupiter's moons, Europa, will join the disappearing act an hour later.

Saturday night, January 3, will feature the first meteor shower of 2015, the Quadrantids. The meteor shower appears to emanate from the Quadrans Muralis, a now extinct constellation that has been assumed by a collection of stars known as Bootes. The constellation Bootes hosts the fourth brightest star in the northern sky, the orange-hued Arcturus. The Quadrantids originate from the asteroid 2003 EH1.

While the Quadrantids can feature streams of shooting stars -- roughly 60 meteor streaks per hour -- on par with other more famous showers (Perseids and Geminids), its peak is much smaller, lasting only a few hours. This coming weekend's full moon will make the Quadrantids especially hard to see; but patient observers will likely be able to catch a few of the shooting stars after their eyes adjust.

The shower will be televised online via Ustream, offering live views of the night sky from Huntsville, Alabama.

Also next weekend, sky-gazers should be able to begin picking Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) out of the night sky. The comet will grow in brightness the early days of 2015 as it passes across the night sky, appearing just to the upper right of the blue-white binary star system Rigel -- the brightest star in the constellation Orion.

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